Although I’m far from the first person to have noticed this (most slasher movie review sites worth the name have talked about it) we may have happened upon a real underappreciated gem of the genre, with proper actors in it and an interesting plot! That it was directed by a guy who only made one other movie – 1977’s “Scalpel” – and written by a guy whose main credits are the two “Zapped!” movies, back when Scott Baio got his own starring vehicles, makes it even more unusual.
“Blood Rage” was released in 1983, heavily edited under the title “Nightmare At Shadow Woods” and not released uncut til a VHS tape in 1987. It stars Louise Lasser, former wife of Woody Allen and co-star of a bunch of his early movies, and she and director John Grissmer argued to such an extent that he quit halfway through and had to be tempted back by the producer – oh, and the producer plays the part of the psychiatrist because the actor they hired for the part never bothered showing up.
It’s also notable-ish for being the screen debut of Ted Raimi, brother of Sam and low-budget horror legend in his own right. He popped up very briefly in “The Evil Dead” but this is the first time you see his actual face, as a guy who sells condoms to another guy at a drive-in in 1974. For that is where the movie starts, with Louise Lasser, 44 years old at the time of filming, out on a date with her twin ten-year-old sons asleep in the back of the car. This is the first hint that we’re not just in typical low-budget slasher territory – why is Louise Lasser starring in this? Why did she think it’d be a good idea to save the few dollars on a babysitter while she tried to have sex with some young stud in the car at a drive-in? Is the father still around?
The kids, thought to be asleep, sneak out when the couple up front are in flagrante, and decide to explore the drive-in. Well, that’s not strictly true. Terry finds an axe and the first available car with a naked couple having sex in it, then brutally murders the guy (and boy oh boy, does this movie have a lot of gore in it). So far, so typical, but then he smears blood all over brother Todd’s face, forces the axe into his hand and pretends Todd did it.
From here things leap forward ten years, with Lasser, now looking close to the age she’s playing, visiting a psychiatrist. Todd, having been locked up this entire time, is finally emerging from his catatonic state, and is remembering he didn’t do it. Maddy (Lasser) freaks out at this information, treating her son as if he was still ten years old. Despite one thinking all this activity would increase surveillance on Todd, he’s able to escape with no problems soon after all this happens.
Terry, on the other hand, finds this out and the same switch that went off when he was ten (although not, apparently, at any point in the intervening decade) goes off again and he starts killing people – initially, it’s sort of vaguely about sex, then he really gets into it and slaughters pretty much everyone in his path. The psychiatrist, for example, is hacked in two while walking through the woods, trying to find Todd, which is such a strange visual that I have to assume it was done as a gag on the way slasher victims usually meet their fates. Also, for fun, look at the hairline on Todd and Terry (played by the same actor, Mark Soper, in an excellent pair of unhinged performances) and see if you think he’s 18 years old.
So, there’s a ton of murder in this movie, and it shows you one, with lots of gory detail, every few minutes. Suck it, previous movie in this review series! (Seriously, though, both this and “Blood Frenzy” feature psychiatrists who get way too involved with murderers, which is an odd coincidence).
But there’s not just murder, there’s some delightful and unusual touches to ponder on while the action rolls along. First up is Maddy’s boyfriend, a wealthy guy who seems to genuinely love her (perhaps it’s the guy from the car ten years previously, it’s never really mentioned). He goes home for the evening after the couple announce their engagement to Terry and is listening to a heavily religious biblical station, which offers to read out scripture for anyone who phones in. He’s murdered by Todd quite early on but not discovered til near the end, and every time we cut to him the radio station is sort of commentating on the action with an appropriate piece of the Bible. It’s weird and fun and I like it.
Next up is Louise Lasser. I’ve no idea how much freedom she had over her own characterisation, but I’m guessing it was a lot, as she’s full on odd. One scene, apropos of nothing, has her sat open-legged on the floor of her kitchen, stuffing food into her mouth with a vacant look in her eyes. She also constantly mistakes which son is which, but appears to have a sexual interest in them both (her final speech is one for the ages).
Which leads into the final thing, a treatment of sex that’s so odd my wife, who’d barely been paying attention, noticed it. Every man in this movie is a sex-phobic prude, while the women are the ones initiating sex and acting super-horny all the time. Again, it’s entirely likely this is deliberate, and the fact it’s never explicitly mentioned is a classy move by a male filmmaker and male writer (that the producer was female might be of interest here).
There’s a lot to entertain the slasher movie enthusiast here. While it could easily be read as just another low-budget gore movie, there’s enough happening on the edges to convince you that these people ought to have been given a few more chances to make movies and see what they came up with. A weird, unsettling, minor classic of the genre.
Rating: thumbs up